Tuesday, December 7, 2021

MENU

Skyrocketing campground insurance rates could threaten the future costs of camping

It’s natural to think that this is a wonderful time to own a campground. After all, there’s been an explosion of interest in the outdoors. Privately owned parks throughout the country are packed to the limit with fresh-faced campers, all trying to find the freshwater bib on their new RV.

To be sure, campground owners are most certainly raking in an incredible amount of registration fees as they hang a “no vacancy” sign on their gates almost every day of the week. But owning your own little piece of outside heaven isn’t as easy – or as lucrative – as it may look these days.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll look at a few of the factors that are making it more difficult to own and operate a campground and, as a result, are driving up the fees paid by campers.

Insurance is a “must-have” – if you can find it

You can’t run a campground business without good insurance. When a park is crammed with hundreds or even thousands of daily visitors there are going to be problems. People slip and fall, and amenities such as swimming pools and Jumping Pillows raise risk ratios. Yet it’s the ever-present risk of wildfires that is really sending campground insurance costs into the stratosphere.

Two Oregon campgrounds recently destroyed by wildfires resulted in insurance claims of $1.8 million and $800,000, respectively. One insurance industry executive told me that those amounts together were more than all the annual campground insurance premiums collected in the entire state of Oregon. From the perspective of the insurance companies, those sorts of payouts are a recipe for going out of business.

In fact, that’s exactly what’s happening. A few insurance companies have folded in recent months, and a few more are deciding that insuring campgrounds in high-risk wildfire areas ironically isn’t worth the risk. Some are pulling out of campground insurance markets entirely in some Western states.

Wildfire claims have become common

Out West, wildfires have become a way of life. Each year, massive fires race through the forests and across grasslands, consuming everything in their path. Sometimes, a campground gets burned down to white ash. Fire claims have become so common in the West that insurance companies have been forced to either raise rates to astronomical heights, pull coverage from some campgrounds, or just leave certain markets uninsured.

In California, it’s gotten so bad that the state was forced to create a statewide “Fair Plan” that required insurance companies doing business in that state to provide policies to businesses like campgrounds in high-risk regions that could not find coverage anywhere else. In most cases, the high-risk policies are very expensive and offer minimal coverage. For example, one campground owner had his rate go from $17,000 per year to $76,000 annually for less coverage than before. Ouch!

Campgrounds are prone to end up in the insurance industry’s higher brush fire protection classes because they are often far away from fire departments, likely aren’t on city water supplies, and are covered with dried-out trees and landscaping. The national Brush Fire Zone index ranks zones around the country between 1 and 100, with zones ranking 100 posing the highest risk.

“If a campground is in a zone over 50, companies don’t want to insure them at all,” said Damian Petty of Leavitt Recreation & Hospitality, a primary broker for campground insurance. Leavitt’s job is to shop for the best insurance coverage for their campground-owner clients, but Petty said good deals are becoming rare.

Most campgrounds in California are in high-risk fire zone

Most campgrounds in California now find themselves in the high-risk brush fire zones. “In the case of companies that stayed in California, most gave big rate increases to campground owners that could find insurance,” said Petty.

Rate increases of 20 to 40 percent are common. Insurance costs have even risen as high as nearly 70 percent in a single year. Petty said some insurance carriers are passing on insuring some very nice parks if their loss ratios in certain areas aren’t looking good. Montana, for instance, hasn’t been performing very well in that regard mostly due to wildfires, and many carriers refuse to even offer a quote or come in with an exorbitant rate.

That, of course, can only lead to pressure on campground owners to raise rates to protect their bottom lines. Remember that they also have to worry about increasing costs of labor, materials (like lumber and paper goods), fuel, and water, to name just a few. It all adds up, sometimes driven by all of those extra camper nights.

Insurers want “vanilla” campgrounds

Insurance companies have come up with their own ideas for campgrounds, and some of them will make you shake your head in wonder. They’ve wrapped their arms around the National Fire Protection Association’s “Firewise USA” Program, which promotes the clearing of brush around structures and the installation of fire suppression systems.

That sounds nice until you realize that many insurers are “suggesting” park owners remove ALL trees within 200 feet of any buildings. That would lead to a lot of completely tree-less campgrounds.

Petty said insurance companies also prefer the more “vanilla” campgrounds that don’t invest in “risky” amenities such as zip lines, rope courses or expensive clubhouses. Historically, insurers also haven’t been wild about parks with older playgrounds, Jumping Pillows, or even swimming pools. Not having high-risk amenities is one of the few things under a campground owner’s control.

Petty said campgrounds can also mitigate their risks by installing big irrigation-system sprinklers (if they are lucky enough to have a dependable water source), hiring professional arborists to trim back dangerous tree limbs, and getting rid of fire fuel sources where they can. But what can you really do when your park sits in a beautiful national forest setting that is in reality the true lure of your campground?

All these measures cost a lot of bucks, and those costs are often passed along to you, the camping consumer.

Where all of this is heading

Insurance cost pressures on smaller “mom-and-pop” campgrounds can be extreme and may force more than a few smaller operators out of the business. It can also be an incentive for them to sell to larger, corporate buyers who can better absorb the rising cost of insurance.

Insurance could also be a factor that eventually slows the construction of new parks or the expansion of current facilities. It will most certainly affect an owner’s plans to add amenities – even expensive cabin accommodations – that might get a thumbs down from their insurance carrier.

Petty said the insurance picture for many campgrounds is likely to get worse before it gets better. That means RVers can expect insurance costs to be yet another factor driving up some site rates. Higher insurance rates aren’t universal to all parks, but it’s surely a factor in play for many owners.

So, the next time you think campground owners must be laughing all the way to the bank, keep in mind that there are a lot of fingers in their wallets taking an increasingly larger bite.

COMING NEXT WEEK: Dealing with the campground labor crunch

Related:

Is the demise of mom-and-pop campgrounds really such a bad thing?

##RVT1026b

Comments

Subscribe
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

18 Comments
Newest
Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Vincee
22 days ago

Well first off anything the goes on in California is not the benchmark (even if they think so) for the rest of the country. There is a lot to be said, and some has been said, about the various reasons for the devastation caused by forest fires in that state, no it’s not climate change.

As for the other reasons for the rapidly increasing insurance costs caused by zip lines and such amenities, those are exactly the type of campgrounds/day parks that we aggressively avoid. Perhaps these are the “corporate” type of parks this newsletter speaks often about being taken over by big money interests such as KOA’s, Jellystone’s, Sun, and a host of others.

Donald N Wright
22 days ago

I would like to find a vanilla insurance company with caps on salaries, benefits and facilities.

George Sears
22 days ago

I remember driving along a bad dirt road in extreme Western Utah, around 2005, after a summer of serious fire activity. The Joshua trees were gone, just wretched skeletons with hunks of green hanging off. They aren’t coming back. They are disappearing everywhere. I thought the time had come to stop the climate shifts that were killing forests of all kinds. But, no, that didn’t happen, and now we are deep in the cycle. It’s ironic, that mega-consuming CO2 spewing RV’s are falling victim to collateral damage from this fire process. I mean, gee, the RV community doesn’t seem real motivated to address the root problem. I will miss the Joshua Trees much more than the Mom and Pop RV parks, but it is kind of a shared tragedy. There’s really no way out. We consume. Forests are something you drive your SUV over at high speed. That’s what the ads say. This is decent journalism. But is this really the tragedy?

rottenrollin
22 days ago

“One insurance industry executive told me that those amounts together were more than all the annual campground insurance premiums collected in the entire state of Oregon.”

NO OFFENSE, but I find this VERY hard to believe. VERY, VERY, VERY AS IN NOT AT ALL.

comment image I can’t find a site that tells me how many RV parks are in Oregon, inclusive of private and public etc etc. YOU might know!?!?

But I know how much I pay for a small office complex in a non-fire neck of the woods, and it’s high, so I know the folks out west in campgrounds must be bleeding out the nose on their premiums.

Nope. I don’t believe this insurance executive. At all. Not one little bit. Not one iota.

Roy Davis
23 days ago

This article’s timing is great. On the irv2 forum the other day, someone was complaining about the rapidly increasing fees at campgrounds. I shared how my wife’s cousin owns a campground and he had just told me their insurance had doubled over the past 3 years. They also wanted them to remove their zip-line over the water and the diving boards. He said that would kill their “day use” customer business, which has helped him keep the site rates reasonable.

Drew
23 days ago

Eye-opening subject. The first time I’ve seen it. I’m also guessing that the campgrounds not in high risk categories could be affected because of the high risk ones….just like poor drivers affecting my rates.

rottenrollin
22 days ago
Reply to  Drew

Nothing those insurance types like more than to spread their risks…….

To the point of no risk at all.

Of course once in a blue moon a major calamity destroys a few insurance companies.

Ha ha. Nature of the business, Bub!

Forgive me, all of you out there, I pay too much for insurance to be sympathetic.

Bill Jones
23 days ago

My family and I used to spend summers houseboating in the Sacramento River delta until rising insurance rates forced all of the houseboat rental companies out of business. Will this be the future of family campgrounds?

rottenrollin
22 days ago
Reply to  Bill Jones

THAT is sad. Was it from casualties in the Sacramento River delta, or just the companies jacking their rates to cover everything everywhere????

Vincee
22 days ago
Reply to  Bill Jones

Bill, the same happened in Northern Ontario, Canada on the Trent Severn waterway where hundreds of islands were connected by a series of 46 locks connecting Lake Huron to the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Atlantic Ocean. In the early ’90s, houseboating was a great way to spend a week on the waterway fishing, swimming, boating and just enjoying the enormous beauty of the seaway. Insurance rates and regulations killed off the entire industry. Shame.

Allen Atkinson
23 days ago

There used to be local swimming pools, roller rinks, and other attractions all over the country. Some went out of business due to integration, but many others quit because of insurance costs. I honestly don’t know why the insurance industry even exists.

Woody
22 days ago
Reply to  Allen Atkinson

Why can’t the smart lawyers at insurance companies develop a form where users of campground accessories such as pools would sign stating they do not hold the campground liable for any mishaps? A second thought would be a legislative limit on court awards for campground mishaps. Reason seems a thing of the past here in the good ole USA.

Richard Davidson
23 days ago

Fire seems to be the biggest problem. One possible solution could be the addition of swimming pools that double as the water source to fight fires. Yes they wouldn’t last long but perhaps if used properly would last long enough to keep the campground from burning up. Perhaps have misters all around the campground piped into the pools to use their water in an emergency.

Mitzi Agnew Giles and Ed Giles
23 days ago

good idea

Edward
23 days ago

Another depressing article for the camper. Why does every article seem to revolve around money? And how much more everything will cost? We know camping is expensive. It’s ok. We have accepted it because we love the outdoors and need to get away from our homes we spend seven days a week In. We will spend the extra $20 a night. By gosh, it’s ok.

Jesse Crouse
23 days ago

I agree. We have specific destinations in mind and only need overnight a spot to rest up for the next day’s drive. This way we only pay for what we use. Not a fit all situation for all needs.

Dave
23 days ago

Develop partner companies that are next door to each other and under separate legal entities. Have the zip line and activities set up as a different company that neighbors the property. Charge for access and don’t require every RV’er to be paying for something a smaller percentage of visitors use.

Glenda Alexander
23 days ago
Reply to  Dave

That sounds like a reasonable compromise. Maybe that could include the swimming pool and other “extras” as well.